After a forced exit from parliamentary politics in the Liberal Democrats’ election disaster, David Laws must have been expecting life in charge of the CentreForum thinktank to be more sedate.
But after opting to change the organisation’s name to the Education Policy Institute as it ditches its focus on Lib Dem policy and focuses solely on education, the former schools minister is dealing with accusations from the Higher Education Policy Institute that the thinktank is “pinching” most of its name.
Mr Laws joined CentreForum as executive chairman in June 2015, after the loss of his Yeovil seat at the election, and leads the organisation alongside executive director Natalie Perera.
The name change to the EPI, announced on 15 June, is part of a new “mission” for the thinktank.
“Through research and analysis, we will hold government and education providers to account for their performance, and help identify the key policies which can improve educational outcomes for all,” Mr Laws and Ms Perera write in an article published to coincide with the announcement.
The EPI appears likely to focus on school education, but will cover “all aspects of education policy”.
However, the name change has not gone down well with Hepi, established as a higher education thinktank in 2002.
Nick Hillman, Hepi director, said: “There are over a million words in the English language. So it beggars belief that CentreForum were unable to come up with an original new name rather than pinching three-quarters of ours.
“I hope their research is more original than their naming policy.”
Mr Hillman suggested that the title “institute” was attractive to those wanting to match some of the esteem accorded to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The former special adviser to Conservative universities minister David Willetts in the coalition government continued: “The Lib Dems have sunk without much trace and David Laws is trying to carve himself out a post-Parliament career.
“It is also about trying to get away from their political heritage by piggy-backing on the reputation of other bodies – it might be us, it might be the IFS.”
Hepi and CentreForum co-hosted a round-table event on private providers in 2014.
“It is not as if they don’t know about the existence of Hepi,” said Mr Hillman.
Mr Laws said: “We are confident that the names are sufficiently distinct and we have worked hard to make sure there won't be any confusion between Hepi and the Education Policy Institute.
“Hepi has built up a strong reputation and identity in higher education policy. The Education Policy Institute will cover all aspects of education policy, including young people’s mental health, education in the criminal justice system, and the earliest years of a child’s development.”